November 11, 2015
Mayor Bill de Blasio: There’s a lot of things we want you to do for our veterans, but there’s one thing we do not want you to do – when it comes to one very distinguished veteran, Loree Sutton, we do not want you to give her Red Bull –
– or espresso, any caffeine product at all, actually.
My dear friends, Loree Sutton is this high energy all the time. Let’s thank her.
So, whether you call her Commissioner Sutton or whether you call her General Sutton – we are blessed to have your leadership, Loree, and your energy. And I’ve got to tell you it’s been so encouraging to so many folks in this city who are veterans and who care deeply about veterans to know that every day you wake up with that fire to make sure that we reach more and more people and help more and more people. Let’s thank her for all she does.
I’m going to try and be quick, but I want to say a couple things – first of all, there’s something powerful about this day because we think about service people have provided, literally, going all the way back to before our nation existed. We think about a group of patriots who banded together and said that what was happening was unjust, and they fought for a new nation. And from that moment to today, there is an unbroken chain. And that is something to celebrate – so many men and women who took up arms to defend freedom, and so many people who have selflessly served. It’s something that we need to reflect on because someday in the work we do every one of us – whatever we’re doing all day – sometimes we hesitate, but those who have served our country never hesitated. They did what they thought was right. Now for well over two centuries that tradition continues. And it’s something to be very, very proud of. So, it’s a day to think about the millions – the millions who have served us over generations.
Now, I have to tell you, we have a special debt of gratitude and a special reverence when we talk about our gold-star families. And let’s give them a salute. Let’s thank all of them who are here.
And we thank them for the support they provide each other, and for the witness they provide to the extraordinary service of those we’ve lost.
Some of you have heard me say it – I’ll just say it quickly – this is always a powerful day for me because I have a family that I think is special. My wife, Chirlane, and I had both our parents involved in the greatest generation in World War II. And I guess that makes us a little rare – that all four parents – and I say this to my children all the time – they had four grandparents who were all active in the war effort, in World War II. The two mothers were on the home front; my mom at the Office of War Information, and my wife’s mom at the Springfield Massachusetts Armory. And my wife’s dad, Robert, served in Europe in the Army in World War II; my dad in the Pacific 7th Division, U.S. Army, in a number of challenging places Latay Gulf, Guadulin, and Okinawa.
So, when we talk about veterans in our family there’s no abstraction whatsoever. When we talk about the struggles of veterans there’s no abstraction – we’ve seen them first hand. My dad came back from Okinawa missing half a leg. And he physically struggled with that for the rest of his life, but he also carried a lot of other pain, and it manifested in many ways – and I think it was true for Chirlane’s dad as well.
So, what’s clearer and clearer to me over the years is – first of all, those who serve carry with them both the nobility and the honor, but they also carry all the tough consequences every day for the rest of their lives. And we have to remember that, and we have to always be ready to serve them. And second, it is about the whole family. It is about the whole family because all the good and all the meaning of service, and all the pride accrues to the family, but the challenges accrue to the whole family as well, and that is up to us to address every day – to follow through on our commitment to veterans in very tangible ways. We said from the beginning of this administration that we had to do that.
And I have to tell you – I want to take a moment to appreciate the fact that if you believe in following through on commitments then one of the things you have to do is set forward commitments that really mean something. I remember the day when the White House called and said we need New York City, the biggest city in the country, to take up a challenge of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. And we knew that wasn’t an easy challenge. And I have to give President Obama a lot of credit. He used the power of the presidency, and the bully pulpit, and that challenge – that very public challenge – to move mountains because, let’s be blunt, for too many years veteran homelessness was tolerated in cities around the country. People didn’t think it was a good thing; people were troubled by it, but they didn’t change it. President Obama changed things by saying we’re calling a stop to this here – we’re drawing a line in the sand. New York City’s taken up that challenge. Since I’ve come into office I’m very proud of the efforts we’ve done – Loree and so many others – 1,700-plus vets have now gotten permanent housing who were previously homeless, and we’re proud of that fact.
But let me share some urgency with you, and this is where I – I need some audience participation, in the sense that I’ve got something for each and every one of you to do after this day to follow through on your commitment to our veterans.
We have a deadline – December 31st. We take it very seriously.
There’s still hundreds of veterans who need help. Now, the good news is, we know every single one of them. The Mayor’s Office for Veteran Affairs, Homeless Services Department – we know exactly who they are, we are constantly engaged with them, and we have resources – city resources and federal resources – to get each and every one of them into a good home.
We don’t have enough good homes. It’s New York City – everyone knows what’s happening in this real estate market. So we need to find apartments of any description – they could be in big buildings, they could be in two- or three-family homes. We need to find folks who want to rent an apartment right now to a veteran, to someone who served this country. We have the resources, but we need people to step forward and say, I’m happy to rent the apartment I have to a veteran.
So I don’t care which part of the city you live in – if you know anyone who can help us, let Loree and her team know, or you can spread the word to other folks. Literally any New Yorker can call 3-1-1 and say, I’d like to help a homeless vet, I have an apartment to rent.
Please spread that word – that’s something very tangible. Again, we’re going to hear powerful ideas today in tribute of our veterans, powerful words. But here’s the action item for everyone – help us find those apartments for our vets.
Now, we know that’s part of it, and that’s a crucial part, but we also know that we have to make sure that any one of our veterans who doesn’t have the kind of employment they deserve gets an opportunity as well. And I know a lot of people in this room who have been working on this, and there’s been extraordinary progress. So many folks in the private sector have responded, recognizing when you hire a veteran, you’re not only doing the right thing, you’re not only saying thank you for service to our country – you’re hiring someone who has gotten extraordinary training and preparation, and brings that discipline and focus. We’ve got to keep spreading that message.
Now, I’m very proud of the fact that in city government, we honor that notion. I was at the graduating class for the Fire Department of this great city just a few days ago, and in the graduating class were 35 veterans. And they are going to be great firefighters, let me tell you. They’re going to make a huge difference for this city.
But again, we need you. We need to constantly identify those job opportunities and work with Loree’s office to get them to veterans who need them and to get them to spouses of veterans who need them, because again, it’s about the whole family. Some veterans, we all know, are not in a position to pursue employment, but their spouse is, and it makes a whole difference to the family that someone has that opportunity.
Loree mentioned what we’re doing with the IDNYC card. That’s going to be a huge piece as well, because that card will allow us to maximize the benefits that we get to veterans. And we’re very focused on that. And we’re very focused on training opportunities, job placement. Our Small Business Services Workforce1 Centers – we’re very proud of this fact too – since I came into office January of last year, we’ve placed nearly 2,300 veterans and their spouses in jobs – actual, real opportunities for families.
And I’ve got to tell you, we are very focused on the whole reality of a veteran’s life. And again, we know that many veterans carry with them so much from their service. And that includes addressing not just the physical health challenges, but the mental health challenges. And again, I saw that in my own family firsthand.
My wife Chirlane, our First Lady, has been intensely working to create a new mental health system for this city. You’re going to be hearing a lot more about it in the next few weeks. But one of the things she’s been particularly focused on is ensuring that that mental health system delivers what our veterans need. So you’re going to see a different kind of access to mental health in this city going forward, and a special focus on our veterans.
Again, this city – so proud to be a place where 200,000-plus veterans live. We are devoted to serving them in each and every way.
And before I go on, I want to just thank some folks who are here, and then I’ve just got a couple of quick other things to say. But I first want thank our hosts here at the Prince George – this is an extraordinary place. I want to thank them for what they do for our veterans. I want to thank Breaking Ground, who’s done extraordinary work helping homeless vets and vets in need. Let’s give them a round of applause for the work they do.
Everyone who has helped to make this event today even more special – Chaplain Major Tracy Hudgins; the U.S. Fleet Forces Band; Julius Coker of the Navy, who sang the National Anthem so beautifully; and the New York City Joint Service Color Guard. Let’s thank all of them.
From our administration – and this is an administration that so many people wanted to be here because of their focus on our veterans – and I’m just going to call them all out. You can clap for them all at the end. Our Deputy Mayor Richard Buery; our Commissioner for Human Resources, Steve Banks, our Commissioner for Homeless Services, who is really – he and his team have been so focused on meeting this challenge and making sure every homeless vet is served – our Commissioner Gil Taylor; Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal; our Acting Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Eddie Torres; our Chief Service Officer for NYC Service, Paula Gavin; our Design and Construction Commissioner, Feniosky Peña-Mora; all the members of the Veterans Advisory Board, who we need, we listen to, and they are so helpful in building what we can do in this city to help our vets. Let’s thank all of them.
And then I want to talk about our elected officials, but I’ve got to start with one who is no longer an elected official but, you know, he’s – he’s important – he’s got a building named after him, and that is – he is a World War II vet, he is a proud marine – I was with Mayor Dinkins yesterday – he reminded me it was the birthday of the Marine Corps yesterday –
– let’s thank Mayor David Dinkins for all he has done for this city and for this country.
And then from our state government, Assembly Members Jose Rivera and Roxanne Persaud – soon to be Senator Roxanne Persaud – and Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon.
And from the city government, Council Member Mathieu Eugene and Council Member Vinny Gentile and – oh, I’m sorry, also from the state government, Assembly Member Michael Blake.
And then finally, from the city government, my partner in all this work we do, the Speaker of the City Council, who has led the way on the City Council side, making sure that all of these efforts I’ve talked about are fully supported by the Council, and she has been an energetic partner in that effort – let’s thank Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
She’s here somewhere – there she is. Thank you.
So I will conclude – that was my bridge to saying a thank-you to Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and to the entire City Council.
Look, the Council worked so intensely and worked carefully and closely with us to figure out the way forward. And we’re very proud of what we have done through the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, but we also knew – and the challenge we’ve taken on in veteran homelessness is an example – we knew we had to find a way forward, and there’s a lot of give-and-take and a lot of trying to figure out the right way to do it. And the Council had a vision for something that has now come to pass, and it was great joint effort, but I want to give the Council tremendous credit for their advocacy and their focus. And because of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Chair Ulrich, and all of us working together, we are very proud that soon you are going to see the Department of Veterans Services. And we know that’s going to make a big difference.
Thanks to all the advocates who worked on this for a long time, and believed this was the right way forward. And we’re proud to have found a path together.
And let’s take from this day the inspiration that we can get more and more done for our vets – that we’re not going to, bluntly, fall into the trap that sometimes happened in the past, where the words were stronger than deeds; that we’re going to do ever-more to serve our veterans.
Let me finish with words from President Kennedy – as you all know, was a wounded vet himself. He said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
With that, a man who lives by his words and has done an extraordinary job making our Navy better – and by the way, it is not an easy job to be Secretary of the Navy in any time. In a time where it seems like the world is changing every few days, and the Navy has to be ready to respond anywhere in the world, I can only imagine what it requires to lead, and the agility, and the strength, and the creativity, but Secretary Mabus is up to it. And he’s also worked every day to make sure that the Navy is a place that is fair and inclusive in every way, living up to the truest ideals of our society. And he’s done a lot of great things as Secretary. It’s our honor here in New York City to have you with us today – Secretary Ray Mabus.
Mayor: We just have a final two very distinguished folks who are real examples of public service in every sense. I want to call them up in a moment.
I just want to do two more acknowledgements. I mentioned – we were talking about our new Department of Veterans Services – the work of the City Council. I want to thank – I didn’t realize he was here at the time, our Chair of our Veterans Committee in the City Council, Council Member Eric Ulrich. Thank you very much, Eric.
And I want to thank Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer as well for her good work.
Alright, I’m going to introduce you to two real-lifers here, in the sense that they first served their country in combat – could have said that was enough – both went through real, real challenges, and then decided to devote the rest of their lives to public service in different ways, and both extraordinary. First, I would like to bring forward decorated Korean War veteran and the Dean of our New York City congressional delegation, Congressman Charlie Rangel.
Mayor: We like to give people of all different generations of service an opportunity to be honored. So you heard from the young whippersnapper Charlie Rangel –
Let’s go back to service before that. Robert Morgenthau served in the Navy in World War II with great distinction. And I have to tell you – again, he – he didn’t think that was the end of the road. He thought that was the beginning. He came back, served this city and this country in so many extraordinary ways, and served as our Manhattan D.A. in a manner that brought such distinction that office, and national and international renown to that office. So it’s a great honor to welcome a great American, Robert Morgenthau. Come forward.
Mayor: Thank you so much. Well, everyone, that is the conclusion of our formal program. I want thank all of you, and again, a special thanks to all on active duty for all you do for this nation – and this city welcomes you and thanks you. And let’s conclude with something I think everyone will enjoy, and give a big round of applause as we welcome the USO Show Troupe.